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Old 01-17-2007, 09:52 AM   #81
Folwren
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“But oh! I spoke wrongly, did I not? You made no oath. Your father did. Your father is a wise man, who makes promises to keep them…but perhaps you are the wiser, who does not make them at all.”

Poisonous woman, Uldor thought bitterly to himself. Beastly thing. How had he ever thought that she might be of use to him? Trickster! She would lie, wouldn’t she? And twist things. Just like he. He allowed a slow smile to take hold on his features. He could match her wit. Let her twist what words and webs of lies she would, he would meet her and use it to his own good.

What did she know of his father, anyway? What did she know of what passed through that old dotard’s mind? Why did she even care? And she called Ulfang wise? Because he made promises and kept them? The smile grew until he was nearly laughing. He cast his eye on her.

“Yes, my father is a wise man,” he said, choking on the thought with laughter and contempt. “He listens to me, and I help make him all the wiser. His promises? He holds to them because that is how it should be. But I? I will make no promises until I know for certain that they will aid me in gaining my own ends. Do you understand?” The smile was gone, the expression now hard and savage. His handsome face was twisted with a flash of raging desire. He reached out and grasped her wrist, pulling her about to face him.

“Listen to me, and understand, and if you report, you can tell your masters this. I will not make an oath to anyone if I am not absolutely certain of the reward. You know what I mean. I don’t care about these elves who have come to ask our help. I don’t care if you know everything. I will use it all to my own good and I will gain what I seek.”
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Old 01-18-2007, 01:48 PM   #82
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Back at the tent Fastarr checked his purse. Nothing had been taken. Not that he would have expected it as he had learned to trust Svana and Willap during his regular visits to the sweatlodge. But it was better to be safe than sorry. And he had also another reason to be content with the purse. He had spent a little less he had foreseen so at least at the moment there was one thing less to worry about.

After polishing the bronze-rings of his quarterstaff and checking the coated-sharpened tips of it - and making the last check in front of the mirror - he went out. The sun had fallen low enough to leave the streets in shadows although the sky was still bright with light. A slight wind was blowing in the almost vacant alleys and in the absence of the sun’s warming rays the air felt colder than it actually was. Fastarr pulled the collars of his fine dark-blue tunic up to cover his neck and started briskly to Khandr’s residence.

Now as he came to think of it, he had only used his better clothes once before during this visit to the Ulfing settlement. It had been the first day after their arrival when they had introduced themselves to the chief Ulfang and his sons. After that these finer clothes of his had just laid at the one end of his tent, folded nicely to wait for the next chance to be worn. Fastarr was no dandy, but he enjoyed dressing to the finetextured clothes that felt so much smoother against the skin and had some colour to please the eye. And being clean and tidy was clearly preferable to being dirty and sweaty in any case. He was in a good mood for a change.

And there was also a curious satisfaction that kept growing inside him as he saw the looks of the few locals around following his passage. They were used to see him as the “Horse-Man”, as they said, a servant in his rugged clothes hardly being different than they were themselves: an easy target for mockery or indifference as a stranger of their own stature. Now his retainership was clearly shown out and Fastarr felt he was giving them back every piece of grunt and joking in full as he went steadily and proudly through the streets ignoring every pair of eyes watching after him. Surely, retainers were no upper-class people, but there was a distinction between a commoner and a retainer. Fastarr enjoyed that little difference to the fullest as he walked through the streets.

There were some local ruffians having their afternoon ales in front of a tavern who tried to mock him against the general feeling of astonishment with calls like “Have you stealed your clothes, Horse-Man?” or “Looking pretty, going for a girl? But if it’s anyone I know, I’ll cut your private parts personally!” and the like. Fastarr decided to just ignore them. At least today, as he took care to notice who the men calling after him were.

Approaching Khandr’s residence he noticed Hunta carrying a huge cheese. “Changing from a hunter to a herder, now are we Hunta?”, he called him some thirty yards away as Hunta hadn’t noticed, or at least not paid attention openly to him. Fastarr flashed an amicable smile as the hunter stopped and turned to greet him with a smile too.

“I’ve had weirder tasks than this today, my friend”, Hunta answered and waited for Fastarr to catch up with him.

“Okay... Care to tell me more?” Fastarr asked as they took jointly towards the house. Hunta answered after a short pause: “Maybe... maybe..., but I think the time for these will be later”.

Fastarr opened the gate for Hunta and they passed through it in quiet, but as they were approaching the stairs the doors swung open and Hugo rushed out to meet them. “So there you are! That cheese has been waited for in the kitchen! It should end up in the table where you’re most probably going to sit in a minute – and just think of what is required for that piece of goat’s droppings to melt into the dishes being prepared!”

Both Hunta and Fastarr were totally surprised by Hugo’s sudden hassle and they both stopped just beneath the stairs. “Please, hurry now, will’ya?” Hugo called them beggingly. Hunta and Fastarr exchanged looks and had considerable task in keeping their poker and not to laugh out aloud to the fussing of the servant. Hugo frowned and ran the stairs down. “Okay, okay, I’ll take it. Master Khandr and the lady are indeed waiting for you. Please get in then”. With that he took the cheese from Hunta and ran back in.

Hunta and Fastarr climbed the stairs slowly after Hugo and entered the hall. Khandr and Briga were standing there, waiting for the guests to arrive.

“Good afternoon lord Khandr, my Lady”, Fastar said and bowed courteously.

“Good afternoon your Lordship and Lady. I hope we’re not late?”, added Hunta in his turn and bowed too.

Last edited by Nogrod; 01-18-2007 at 01:56 PM.
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Old 01-19-2007, 12:58 PM   #83
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Tora was walking as fast as she could. She felt she had lingered overlong, especially since those at home knew that she had just went to fetch a knife from the forge, and that did not usually take so long a time. She would have to answer for her long absence when she reached home.

But that was not what was bothering Tora most. If there was to be trouble at home, she would deal with it when she got there. It had not been totally her fault, anyway. She had heard many things that made her now feel quite uneasy. It was true, she was still too young to fully understand all that she had heard, but one thing was clear even to her. Something was about to happen in their settlement. Something was not quite right.

Yet she could not quite tell from where such a notion came. Maybe she had somehow senesed some anxiety in the settlement,or felt that there was something looming ahead of them, some time of darkness and difficulties and doubt. Or maybe it was nothing after all. Maybe the happenings of that day-the coming of the elves, the forging of a sword for Ulfast- were perfectly normal events, and only her mind-already used to sorrow and darkness- made more of them than there actually was.

With such thoughts forming in her mind, Tora reached Dag's forge. He found the smith still working on the sword. When she entered, however, he raised his head and smiled to her. Tora smiled back.

"I...I came to see if the knife was ready." she said. "And I thank you very much for putting aside so great a task as the forging of a sword for the chieftain's son for the mending of a mere farmer's knife. I also bear a message from your wife. She tells you that you should not forget your dinner."

Tora paused expectantly. She wondered whether to ask Dag to tell her more of the task that he had been entrusted, but she dared not do it. Such things were not right, and anyway, Dag would surely not confide in her, young as she was. And why did she want to know so much about this? Would it make her feel better? Would it ease her troubled mind? Surely not. Chances were that the answer to her questions would only bring more fear into her heart. Yes, likely enough, she would have to pay too great a price for her inquisitiveness.
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Old 01-21-2007, 06:40 PM   #84
Celuien
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By the time Ulfast reached his chambers, much of his ill humor had dissipated. In truth, the day had not been entirely unpleasant. He thought that he would have to speak with Ulwarth later. There, at least, Ulfast had a solid ally in enmity for his older brother.

It was frustrating that Uldor had not spoken against the summons. Ulfast knew that his brother would be against sending men to aid the Elves, whether or not he said it openly. Perhaps there was a way to prod him into open defiance. Little time had been spent with the Elves. More hours of forced politeness to the visitors might provoke Uldor into carelessness.

Ulfast smirked as he realized that he did not know whether a proper welcome for the envoy had been planned. The greeting they had received as yet had been small, but the arrival of an important ally after long journey deserved more attention. A grand feast would be in order. Ulfast scribbled a message inquiring about the preparations for such an event and summoned a servant to bring it to Uldor. Whether plans had already been made or not, the message would annoy Uldor. Had they already been made, Uldor would be irritated by the apparent stupidity shown by the message. If not, the reminder of the need to show courtesy to the visitors would anger him.

A grand feast would require Ulfast to appear in his finest attire. He thought of the new sword he had ordered. If the smith had been diligent, there was a chance that it would be finished in time for the festivities. He decided to check on the sword's progress. For a moment, Ulfast thought of sendng one of his men to the forge, but then thought better of it. He would go himself. The smith would understand the importance of his task if it brought a chieftain's son to his shop. And too, he could test the smith's loyalty to him.

He left the Ulfing hall and strode through the village streets, enjoying the startled, fearful glances sent his way. He came to the smith's shop and called to the craftsman.

"I am Ulfast, son of Ulfing. How goes the work on my sword?"

Last edited by Celuien; 01-24-2007 at 08:17 AM.
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Old 01-21-2007, 07:14 PM   #85
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Khandra:

The master of the house hurried over to the door and extended a hand of welcome to his guests, "Fastarr, Hunta, it is good to see you both. My wife and I greet you." Knahdr turned towards Briga, indicating with a little wave of his hand that she should stand beside him. For some time, they made small talk, speaking of this and that and some of the strange customs observed by the villagers.

Then Khandr led his guests over to a small table where cups of sweet honey mead had been set out on a silver tray. He picked up one of these and handed it to Hunta, encouraging the rest to retrieve their cups and explaining, "We are still awaiting Bergr's arrival but let us have a little refreshment before we sit down at the table. Everyone lift their drink. It is right that we take a moment to remember our bonds of loyalty to our tribe and our pledge to be good retainers of lord Maedhros for that makes us kinsmen here in a strange land. A toast now for the health and good fortune of King Bor."

Khandr lifted up his glass and drank, beckoning the others to do the same. When they had all finished, he explained, "We will wait till Bergr arrives to discuss the details, but I must say this first. I have called you here for two purposes. The great hall of the Ulfang is a cold place to be. I sense little friendliness or warmth as existed in the days of old. It is a good thing to be able to sit and spend an evening with friends. But that is not the only reason we are here." Khandr sighed and shook his head, "I wish it was that easy. There are so many secrets in this settlement. And I am shut out from so much that I fear that something, perhaps something treacherous, is going on. The signs do not bode well for the fortunes of the Borrim or that of our King. We can not stay here and do nothing. We must act. What and how we act is something we must determine tonight. "

"Now we will wait for Bergr to arrive and sit down to a fine meal. Feasting first, and then planning...."

Suddenly Khandr stopped and glanced around the room, a puzzled expression reflected on his face, "But where is my second wife? Where is Embla? I do not see her." He stared over at Briga who shook her head and shrugged her shoulders as if to say that she had no idea.....

Last edited by Child of the 7th Age; 01-24-2007 at 12:36 AM.
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Old 01-23-2007, 01:19 PM   #86
Lalaith
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Embla stood at the back of the hall, in the shadows. Much as she had been doing for the past few hours, she was skulking and smirking. She had enjoyed watching Briga rushing busily about, and whispering anxiously with Khandr - who was all the while distractedly running his fingers through his beard. So much so, in fact that she quite forgot to adhere to her usual policy such occasions – to get in the way, pick quarrels and issue counter-orders.

She observed Hunta stumping back, discombobulated, with the cheese. Fastarr, meanwhile, had arrived looking unusually spruce – well-groomed, almost. She guessed by his flushed glow where he had been – the sweatlodge. She felt a twinge of jealousy. Embla had, in her misery, almost given up on personal adornment, but she was fastidious by nature and had been a frequent sauna guest back in the happy Bairka days. But the restrictions imposed on Borrim womenfolk meant that a visit to a public sweat-lodge was out of the question for her now.

She looked at Fastarr again, as he joined in the toast proposed by Khandr. Oh, she knew him well, by reputation at least. This was the killer of Starkadr. It had been before her mother died, when she still lived among the Bairka. She remembered the woman Aud, returning shamed to her people. Mourning her dead babes and her dead lover, grey-faced and wasted by tragedy and scandal. The child Embla – always observant - had viewed this sad figure with a mixture of pity and intrigue.

Now it was she, Embla, who was shamed at the hands of the Borrim. But hers was a dull, hopeless shame, with no memory of a child or a lover to add spice to her despondency. Abruptly she was pulled out of her brooding thoughts about the ill-fated Aud and her Borrim husband – for the latter had just stepped, inadvertently, on the hem of her long cloak, not seeing her in the darkness.

“Dolt,” she hissed. The man recoiled and stammered something in apology. She looked him up and down with all the haughtiness she could muster, taking in Fastarr’s attempts to smarten up his apparel and appearance. “Better wise language than well-combed hair,” she added. The proverb seemed to hit home and she enjoyed watching the blush spread across his wide, honest face.

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Old 01-23-2007, 07:46 PM   #87
Durelin
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Did he dare touch her? Her eyes flashed with rage, but Jord did not pull away from his grip. There was nothing she could do, not until the Lord Morgoth was through with him. But the way his hand felt tight around her wrist, squeezing flesh, muscle, bone, and blood together… It…hurt. Yes, it was pain. She cursed this weak body, and would have torn it apart, relishing in the pain and knowing that it signified destruction, if it had not been a gift from her Master. A gift…and more than she deserved. But she would more than earn it once she was through with this thing before her, which dared to look her in the eyes, to face her with anger and scorn…

The present…she was locked into it, in this body. She drew herself back, and returned Uldor’s gaze without flinching.

“…if you report, you can tell your masters this…”

Oh, my master already knows…

So this was the depth of the complexity of a mortal mind? Apparently Jord would not even have to try to manipulate the man into thinking the way she wanted him to. All she needed to do was state something, and he would gobble it up. Of course he was “wiser,” he had determined. And no, no oath was necessary. Melkor did not require the honor of fealty from Uldor, as if he should expect an oath to the Highest Lord to mean he would receive as well as give. But why wait for someone to give when you had the power to take? Like a rabbit in the hunter’s snare, this man would be secured, snatched up by Morgoth’s mighty hand, and Jord had only to lead him into the trap.

Not that it would take much pulling from his strings. It seemed playing him a simple tune, as long as it was played well, would get him to dance for her well enough.

“I will use it all to my own good and I will gain what I seek.”

As if this was news to anyone? He had not done a good job hiding his ambition. Rather he had wasted it away on pathetic conquests: mostly women and wealth. Power, by the standard of Men, he already had through birth…but naturally he wanted more. More than his father’s throne, and certainly more than it was underneath another power he could not hope to stand up to – the Elves.

“And your ambition will serve you well, Prince Uldor,” she said slowly, resting her hand on his that held on to her other wrist, and allowing herself to be pulled slightly closer, “in gaining…whatever it is you want…” The truest followers of Melkor were always rewarded…as long as they remained useful, that is.

“Anything you desire,” she whispered, as her lips twisted into a smile. The words rolled off her tongue, a sickly lullaby. “Now that is how it should be, is it not, my lord?”
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Old 01-26-2007, 09:46 AM   #88
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Bergr sat at the door of his hut, carefully threading a needle in the waning light. After being informed of the feast he was expected to attend he had realised that he would be required to wear something rather more formal than the hunting gear he lived in most of the time and so he had gone home and rummaged through the chest that still held mementos from the days when the small Borrim envoy had first entered the Ulfing settlement. His search had turned up some fine clothing, fit for the occasion in style but not quite ready for use as the years had left them dusty and falling apart in places.

A short journey to the stream running along the edge of the woods followed this discovery, where Bergr pulled off his boots and waded into the water to scrub the garments clean, remembering with amusement his first attempt at washing clothes. The stream that day had been flowing very fast and as he had leant back to stretch his back he had fallen, dropping the tunic he had been holding into the water as he landed in it with a splash. A few shocked seconds passed before he noticed that his clothing was now swimming downstream and would soon be out of sight. Leaping to his feet he had run dripping down the riverbank, one eye on the tunic floating along just ahead of him and the other on the unwashed clothes he had left behind. A wild grab that nearly had him tipping head first into the stream finally returned the tunic to his hand and he had trudged back home to sit by the fire and dry himself off, his wife's merry laughter ringing in his ears as he imagined what she would have thought of the situation.

This time the washing was managed without such an adventure. It was the sewing that was giving Bergr trouble, his thick fingers were meant for clutching a spear or sword not pushing a piece of thread through something so small he could barely see it. The job was made harder by the setting of the sun, and as it became darker Bergr became more anxious, knowing he was going to be late for the feast if he didn't get this sleeve done soon.

A last pull of the needle meant he was finished, and a quick wash later he was dressed and ready to go. It was truly dark now, but long years of hunting in places with little light as well as easy familiarity with the place meant he was able to rush through the streets to Khandr's house with little worry of getting lost or falling over something and making a fool of himself.

He arrived at the house a little out of breath and found himself confronted by Hugo merely seconds after knocking on the door.

"In you go." The servant said, not giving him a chance even to wish the man a good evening. "They're waiting for you."

Bergr found himself being hurried into the hall he had visited on a few occasions and saw that the others had already arrived. Khandr was also there with Briga, and he strode over to make his apologies.

"I am sorry for my lateness my Lord and Lady. It has been some time since I have attended such an occasion and it took me some time to prepare for it."
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Old 01-26-2007, 12:03 PM   #89
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Tell Me Ma When I Go Home

Drenda had not found himself discontented with Brodda's ambiguous reply to his own nondescript question. A connection had been established, that much was clear. He had smiled coldly and served Brodda with a cup of mead, as was customary when a lesser member of court left the company of a greater one. On their next meeting, he thought, he would talk business, and it would be more private; he knew where Brodda kept his house, not far from the eastern quarter of the settlement where Uldor stayed when he grew weary of his father's hall; the area was a focal point for all the yes-men of Brodda's sort.

He could offer Brodda quite a lot in terms of service, he supposed. He was young, but unimportant, and could hear where others tended to be more noticeable. He was useful enough if things came to quarrels; he was, at least, taller than most Ulfings, the Chieftain's sons included, and he knew himself to be an excellent hunter.. And he was the son of Drenduld, noble in blood if scant in wealth. All he asked was an opportunity and support of a certain kind.

Drenda left the hall in a hurry and proceeded to the stables, where a score of horses stood, lazy and tethered, a couple of bored grooms slipping in and out, clamping their noses pinched shut at the smell of ordure. The steeds of the ambassadors were not to be found here; they answered to no binding, and had consented only to be led aside to a paddock where they fated, of their own will, for the return of their Elven masters.

The boy selected his own bay cob, the most valuable thing he owned but a poor creature compared to most of these enormous, brash, snorting beasts. He saddled the animal and rode out, heading for his mother's house.

***

"Well? How did your little meeting go?"

Gausen never took the Chieftain's Hall seriously, scarcely recking anything of her allegiance to Ulfang as one of the tribe, and her attitude irritated her son, making him feel like a small boy chided for stealing food.

"It is as I thought, mother," Drenda replied stiffly, "but to a much greater degree. Caranthir's rider has asked for seven thousand soldiers."

Gausen whitened behind her black veil, and then threw it off, her eyes candles in inky pools of darkness.

"Seven thousand? That must be, what, a quarter of all the males in these lands...well, well. You will go, of course," she said, speaking more quietly now, "as if there had ever been any doubt about it." Her fine son's laudably high passions would never keep him from a sword for long, and this she had always known.

"Aye, mother, and not as any foot-soldier, either, but truly as my father's son, if my designs go to plan. Look, I spoke with Lord Brodda..."

"You men speak much, and very portentously too, I'm sure," Gausen interrupted, feeling her son writhe like a rattled cat, "but such concerns mean nothing to me. I'll see you settled and wealthy in my own way, before you go off and get yourself killed. If you deny me the chance to be a mother to you, dearling, then I shall ensure I am a mother to your son."

Drenda tossed his head, rather resembling a horse in his annoyance. "Mother, you know, I really have other things to think about than wives. I mean, not that I couldn't have any woman I asked for, but..."

"Don't be silly, dear, or arrogant; I know you deserve a Chieftain's daughter, but you can't afford to be too casual, starting out with so little. I have obtained the name of a certain farmer, with one daughter he wants taken off his hands. The girl's name is Tora. She won't bring you much in the way of money, but she's a firm enough thing, sober and sensible by the sound of it..."

Drenda gave a deeply exasperated snort. "Look, mother, I thought you were the one here who got ahead by touting out your body. I am Drenduld's son, and I..."

"None of that!" Gausen's teeth were bared now, in what was almost a snarl. "What time I choose to spend with the Lord Uldor is my own affair, and in any case it is purely a matter of friendship. You owe a great deal on that horse of yours."

"And?" Drenda was less certain than he sounded. His mother's ability to leap onto a new, more pressing subject often startled him.

"I have a little put aside, boy, and I will honour your accords about that horse - I know the dealer well - if you will go and speak with this girl's father. He's a simple man, and your blood should clinch the agreement."

Drenda thought about it, but not for very long. He really needed that horse if he was to keep his station at Ulfang's Hall intact, and the debt was becoming insupportable.

"Done," he said. "Now where does the old man have his house?"

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Old 01-29-2007, 11:40 AM   #90
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Dag


“I am Ulfast, son of Ulfing. How goes the work on my sword?"

Dag still held the farmer’s knife in his hand. The notch that Tora’s father had managed to put in it had been a bad one, and it had required more careful attention to repair it than Dag had anticipated. He had just dipped the blade in water to cool it one last time when the girl had arrived asking after it. . Not having had a chance to reply to the girl’s shy inquiry, upon hearing Ulfast’s abrupt words, Dag looked to the entrance and regarded the chieftain’s son steadily, the wariness he felt hidden within the depths of his heart.

Dag understood perfectly well that Ulfast’s declaration as Ulfang’s son was not one of instruction – for who amongst the Ulfings did not tread more carefully when this embittered and thwarted second son stalked the streets of the settlement? Ulfast’s reputation for cunning was matched only by his tenacity in holding a grudge. Once angered, whether for real or imagined insult, his determination to exact revenge knew no bounds. It was said that neither of the two glittering daggers that hung at his belt had retained their virginal quality for long after Ulfast had commissioned their crafting. That had been back in the years of his brother’s exile, when such exquisite weapons were an outward symbol of the power he wielded, with his father’s blessings. Dag wondered how long the yet unfinished sword which this lordling now demanded would have to wait to be baptized with the rush of blood from yet another of Ulfast’s enemies.

As always, Dag weighed his words carefully before he spoke. “The work progresses, my lord.” He inclined his head but kept his gaze upon Ulfast, neither impolite nor obsequious. “There yet remains a good two days to see its completion.” He offered no further information or explanation, not wishing to volunteer more than was required.

His gaze flickered briefly to the girl standing just inside the doorway, willing her to remain silent, to avoid bringing the attention of the chief’s son upon herself, and thence, her family. Deliberately taking a step back, without turning his back to Ulfast, which would have been a grave and unforgivable breach of etiquette, Dag casually placed the knife aside on the edge of the forge and extended his hand in the direction of the sword where it lay on a side table. The metal was a deep, thunderhead grey, and any fool would know it had not felt the kiss of the flame for quite some while. Dag’s mind worked quickly, hoping to fashion a reasonable explanation should the chieftain’s son question that fact, some answer which would satisfy, and divert attention away from the presence of the girl, or the significance of the knife.

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Old 01-29-2007, 11:40 AM   #91
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Gunna & Mem


Gunna chewed thoughtfully on her lower lip as she reentered her small home. It was an unconscious habit she had, a sure sign of inner turmoil. When Dag caught her at it, he would tease her gently, offering to do the gnawing for her, which invariably garnered him a smile and a kiss. But today, she continued her worrying unmolested, her thoughts chasing each other like mice in a cage, trying to fathom the undercurrents which were sweeping through the town, hard on the heels of the elves.

Sitting next to her sister, drawing the baby into her lap and positioning her to nurse, Gunna said, “I’m sorry I was gone so long. I should not have ventured to the Borrim’s house. Were you worried?”

Mem placed her hand on the child’s head, gently stroking her fine, dark curls. “No. We were fine. You know I’m able to take care of things here – I’ll bet I know every square inch of this house as you can not.” She leaned her thin shoulder against her older sister’s arm. “Don’t fret.” She said softly. “Kata and old Dulaan, they understand. They won’t censure you.”

Gunna wondered once more at her sister’s intuitive ability to always ferret out what was troubling her. It was almost as if Mem could read her mind. No doubt it was the many hours they spent together, day in and day out, which made it so. Yet, Gunna herself was often at a loss to know what her little sister was thinking. She sometimes came out with the most startling proclamations, or questions.

“I have an admirer, it would seem.”

It took a moment for Mem’s words to register. Gunna turned towards her sister, unsure of what she had just heard. Mem had the same placid look on her face with which she usually faced the world, and Gunna was sure she had misheard her.

“What did you say?” Gunna asked doubtfully.

“An admirer. Old Granny told me.” This time, a small, shy smile played about the girl’s lips and her sister knew that she had in fact heard correctly.

“Dulaan? Dulaan told you that you had an admirer?” Gunna sounded so dumbfounded
that Mem smiled openly that such an outrageous thing should come to pass. “Who is it? How does Dulaan know of this? Did she give you an actual name?” Gunna knew as well as anyone in the town of old Granny’s fondness for joking. Perhaps she had merely been jesting with the girl. But, no! That would be too cruel indeed. Dulaan was very fond of Mem. She would never play such a prank on her.

“Yes, she did, in fact. Falki.” Mem spoke in her same, quiet voice but Gunna felt the girl’s arm tremble against her own.

“Falki? Kata’s Falki?” Gunna shook her head in disbelief. How could this be? How could it come to pass that this boy, this youngster who had been in and out of her house time out of mind in the past four years, could have developed any feelings for her sister, right under her very nose, without her knowing of it? How old was this stripling anyway? With a start, Gunna realized that he was 19 – almost a man grown now! How they change so quickly, from that awkwardness of a youth to the poise and confidence of a man. Still!

Gunna snorted in derision. “And how does old Granny know this? A little bird told her, I suppose?” Gunna used the old woman’s favorite way of expressing any rumor which she had heard being blown on the wind.

“I suppose you could call him that.” Mem replied with a smirk. “But he seems more a young man than little bird to me.”

“You mean to say Falki himself has told this to Dulaan?” Gunna was almost speechless. Almost. “Why, that boy never says more than two words together at a time! Why should he be so talkative about this?” Gunna’s eyes narrowed. “And his mother? Did Kata speak of this to you?” If so, she had committed a serious breach of etiquette, talking to a young woman before approaching her family first. By rights it was Dag who should first be hearing of this. Gunna resolved to add this to his list of items to talk over with Grimr, if he had the chance.

Again, as if she read her sister’s mind, Mem placed a gentle hand on Gunna’s, saying, “No, I don’t believe Kata knows anything of it. Or, if she does, she didn’t say anything to me.” Mem hesitated, and when she spoke again the pleading in her voice was clear. “Gunna, please, say nothing of this to Dag. He has so much on his mind as it is. I don’t want to trouble him further, or . . . cause any trouble between the two of you.”

Gunna regarded her little sister. Not so little as she once was, Gunna thought ruefully. Could it be? Could the prospect of marriage seriously be entertained? The idea had never even crossed her mind, and for that, she chided herself now. Of course, Mem was blind and that had always seemed sufficient reason to hold her close, protect her, shield her from prying eyes and laughing, pointing fools. Gunna had never considered the possibility that perhaps Mem would want more for herself, that the girl would secretly dream of her own home, her own child to cradle and love, her own husband to hold her close in the cold nights, to cherish and take care of, as he would cherish and take care of her. And that such a man now loomed on the horizon, possibly, and might want to take Mem for his own, that was something Gunna had never in her wildest imaginations foreseen. And what Dag would make of it all, heavens only knew! He too had grown quite protective of his “little sister”.

Gunna looked more closely at Mem, seeing her with new eyes. Thin, frail, smaller than most, still, Mem was developing a womanly curve to her body, her face was longer, thinner, less child-like, Gunna herself had been two years younger than Mem was now when she was betrothed to Dag, and Dag had been younger than Falki was now. Yes, time had moved on, and Mem right along with it.

Sighing, Gunna placed her hand to Mem’s cheek. “Yes. Now is not the time for such talk. All the men’s mind will be full of the coming of the elves. They will have much to think on, and talk of, amongst themselves. There will be time enough later, for talk of . . . of, a marriage?” Gunna smiled in spite of her misgivings to see Mem’s face light up at such a prospect. Wrapping her arm about Mem’s thin shoulders, she whispered in her ear conspiratorially, “We’ll keep it a secret for now, just between you and me. But I think I’d like to have a talk with old Granny, soon. Very soon.”

Mem hugged her sister back, holding her tightly. “Yes, please do! Find out what you can, and if . . . if . . . you speak with him, tell him . . . tell him, I’m waiting, right here.”

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Old 02-01-2007, 01:05 PM   #92
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“And your ambition will serve you well, Prince Uldor, in gaining…whatever it is you want…” Her voice was a smooth as honey, as quiet as a sweet bird, as beautiful as a summer day. She touched his hand gently. He drew it back, but didn’t let go. She stepped closer. “Anything you desire,” she said, her voice sinking as she finished. She smiled slowly, sweetly, almost lovingly; Uldor stared with astonishment at her perfectly beautiful face. “Now that is how it should be, is it not, my lord?”

His heart lifted and fell with an odd flutter. For half a moment, he bent closer and his lips parted just a little. His grip on her wrist had become gentler, but he hadn’t yet let go entirely. She looked up at him, her eyes like dark, deep pools, tried to draw him in closer and closer until he drowned within their depths. He let go of her and laid his hand gently on her waist. A slight shudder passed through her at his touch.

A sharp thought rebuked him in an instant. He leaped backwards, away from her, a look of fire flashing into his eyes and face. He had threatened her - his hand had hurt her small, white wrist, he was sure - but she returned it as a compliment and offered more of herself to him.

“What do you want with me?” he snarled. “I didn’t ask to be won over. I’ve got my own plans to fulfill and they don’t include you. Shut up,” he snapped, as she prepared to laugh and respond. “I don’t want to hear any more of your sickeningly sweet promises. With your lips you would kiss me and promise me wealth and power, and with your left hand you would trust a dagger into my heart and give my blood to Morgoth. You would rather see me crawl at your feet than be an honorable man. I will stand on my own - without your help.”

He turned about sharply, ending the conversation entirely, and stormed back over the hill and down towards the city. His blood pumped with fury and not a little confusion. His eyes blazed with hatred towards all, hatred bordering on murder. The guards at the gate cowered away from him, but he ignored them entirely as he strode through.

He went directly to the Ulfing hall, entered by the wide, front doors, and went through the corridors and up a flight of stairs to his room. He slammed his door behind him and threw off his cloak impatiently, tossing it into the bed. His feet slowed to a stop in the center of the floor. For a moment he stood, his hands curling and uncurling by his side. Then, slowly, he looked up and walked to the window.

The heavy, wood shutters were open and the breeze and sunlight flowed in together. While there, looking out, his temper cooled by degrees. His heart ceased to beat so furiously and his mind cleared of the anger and confusion. All that was left was the picture of that face – strange and foreign in it’s beauty. So dark but so utterly fair, the skin so perfectly white without a single blemish. Her hair was black as ebony, and her lips, he recalled…her lips red as blood.

A knock at the door broke into his thoughts just there. He shuddered slightly and then his head jerked sharply about on its neck and he looked towards the door.

“What is it?” he called.

“I bring a message from your brother, lord Ulfast.”

“A message?” Uldor grumbled to himself. “What message would that scoundrel want to send me. He never writes.” He opened the door with sharp abruptness. The unfortunate messenger stepped back at the sight his latently ferocious face. “Where is it? What does he want?” The young man held out the folded pieces of paper. Uldor took it impatiently from his hands and shut the door sharply in his face. He turned towards the window again as he unfolded the letter.

His eyes scanned the short letter swiftly. As soon as he had finished, he crumpled it with annoyance and tossed it into the corner of his room.

“Blasted elves, anyway,” he muttered. “But I guess it is necessary. Confound Ulfast and his nasty ideas of courtesy. Why didn’t I think of it?” he added at once. “It’s not his concern!”

Still grumbling to himself and thinking dark thoughts, he left his chambers and set to work preparing a fitting banquet for a proper receival of their guests.

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Old 02-01-2007, 05:57 PM   #93
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Jóra flicked the reins against the pony’s back and crooned a few words of encouragement. She was enjoying this opportunity to try her hand at driving, and the fact that her mother sat silent in the back of the cart did not intrude on her pleasure. Granny sat next to Jóra, responding with the appropriate “Mmmhmmm!” and “Isn’t that just so” to the girl’s excited chattering.

With home finally reached, Jóra hoppend down from the cart and ran round to help Granny down. She hurried off then to take the pony to the barn.

Káta had gotten herself out of the cart and stood waiting a short ways away from the house for Dulaan to draw nearer. She hooked her arm through the older woman’s and gave her a cat-like smile as she turned them both away from the door and began walking toward the bench by the big oak.

‘Come, sit down, Dulaan,’ she said, patting the wooden seat as she took a seat herself. A brief moment of silence passed as both women looked about at the familiar scene. ‘Now, tell me,’ Káta continued, turning slightly on the smooth seat to look at Granny. ‘Just what exactly did I think I overheard when you and Mem were by the fire?’

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Old 02-03-2007, 05:48 PM   #94
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Khandr:

Khandr tossed his second wife a distracted glance and nonchalantly shrugged his shoulders, refusing to rise to the bait and be pulled into Embla’s discontent when more pressing matters remained. Yet her attitude was unsettling. Could the woman be trusted to do the task he had chosen for her? Khandr wished he had sought out Embla earlier in the day and privately spoken with her about the assignment. It was an important task and one that needed doing if they had any hope of penetrating the veil of secrecy that hung over the doings of Ulfang and his sons. As much as he loved and esteemed Briga, Khandr was certain that his first wife and long time companion lacked the natural duplicity and instinct for intrigue that would be necessary for this particular job. And perhaps for once, Embla would realize he was paying her a compliment by suggesting she take on one of the most enigmatic figures at court.

A heavy grey fog, sickly sweet and cold, swelled up and pressed against Khandr’s senses. He fought to push back his unsettled feelings, determined to go forward despite the obstacles. If he could not gain accurate information by open and honest means, then he must acquire it in other ways. All his instincts screamed out that some plot was being hatched, which could be detrimental to the interests of the Borrim and the king to whom he pledged loyalty. Khandr only hoped that the price for this information would not run too high.

Pushing back his gloom for the sake of his guests, Khandr gestured that Bergr should join them and directed the others to gather around the table. The dishes were quickly brought out and set before them. The women had prepared an elaborate feast. For the next hour, the Borrim focused their attention on the meal, sampling an array of soups, meats, breads, root vegetables, and heady cheeses provided by their host. When everyone had finished the first two courses, the house servants cleared away the dishes and brought out a custard tart seasoned with saffron and cloves. Instead of the usual ale, Khandr had managed to obtain a flask of fine red wine that had been brought up from the south; he had Briga approach each guest and offer them a cup.

As the meal came to an end and the guests settled back comfortably in their chairs, Khandr could no longer delay the inevitable. It was time to address the real reason he had asked the Borrim to come to his house this evening. He began by describing how difficult it was to get information from court. The old and easy friendship between the different branches of the Easterlings had completely vanished. “Everything has changed,” he lamented. “Ulfang and his sons have no interest in our marriage proposal. And I can get nothing out of them. I have no sense of what is going on. But my instincts tell me that great changes will soon take place. I fear these will not be good for us or for our king. We can not just pack our bags and go home, as much as I would like to do that. We have a duty to stay here and try to untangle this puzzle. And that is why I have asked you to come here tonight.”

“You are my eyes and ears,” he explained. “I can not be everywhere at once. And there are times when being an official envoy places me at a disadvantage. Many prefer to confide in someone who bears no official title. That is why I need your help. I will be asking each of you to secure information about a particular individual whose name I will give you. Go to that person, speak with them or their servants to try and find out what is really going on. Speak little, and saw nothing as to why you were sent. Once you have learned whatever you can, come back and share the information with me. This is the only way we will get anywhere. It is a pity that one Easterling has to spy on another, but in these hard days I see no other way to come by the truth.”

“As to your assignments…. Khandr glanced down at his list and read off the paired names in a cold, crisp voice: “Fastarr, Ulwarth; Bergr, Ulfast; Hunta, Uldor; Embla, the lady Jord; and Briga, Lord Ulfast’s wife. I myself will pay a personal visit to Ulfang. Is that alright then? Any questions or concerns?” His eyes swept nervously around the circle.

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Old 02-03-2007, 06:07 PM   #95
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Ulfast's calculating stare followed the smith as he moved behind the forge. A cold grin played at the corners of his mouth. Fortunately for Dag, it was not the mask Ulfast wore to hide his fury, the sly cover of pretended friendship that came just his wrath reached out with a deadly grasp. The man was bold. The rude trifle of a knife that had just been placed aside had no doubt been the task most recently in Dag's hand while the sword he now hefted had most likely lain neglected.

Ulfast thought he could sense fear coming from the craftsman, yet he had spoken calmly and deliberately, saying no more or less than needed. Such a man would be of good use if he could be reminded of his place in service to the son of Ulfang.

"Two days, you say? I had hoped it would be sooner. Tonight we hold a feast in honor of our allies of the Elven kingdom. Surely you have heard? Where better to display the work of a fine craftsman?" His voice rang with cool authority.

Ulfast's eyes drifted again to the knife, and for the briefest of moments, to the girl in the doorway.

"Or perhaps you have been attending to other tasks?"

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Old 02-06-2007, 04:22 PM   #96
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Cornered! Like an old mousekin by the barn cat...

Káta had shooed off Jóra and now the two women stood under the slender ash tree that grew in the side yard. Granny opened her mouth to speak, thinking to dissemble as she could concerning her little exchange with Mem. But one quick look at Káta’s narrowed eyes and she knew she’d be caught out if even one falsehood passed her lips.

Dulaan sighed, her eyes flicking to the entry way to the little barn. One of the older boys stood there, half hidden in the shadows. Her head turned back to her questioner and one wrinkled hand reached out to touch Káta lightly on the arm.

‘Now, dear,’ she began, her eyes softening as she remembered the young eager girl Káta had once been. ‘You remember, don’t you, how when you were a young one and just in the first flush of love, or at least interest, how you wanted to know if that object of your affections thinks the same? Well, that’s how it is for our Fálki, our shy-boots Fálki.....’

She went on to explain the red-faced talks the young man had had with her and the request he’d made for her to talk to Mem if it were possible. ‘And once his ducks were all in a row, and he knew with some surety his feelings might be returned - why then he was going to speak with his father and you about approaching Mem’s family.’

Granny could just see the thoughts fluttering behind Káta’s gaze when Grímr’s loud voice rang out.....

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Old 02-07-2007, 07:32 PM   #97
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It did not take much to bring the anger out in this man, to get him to show his true colours. He had met her eyes as she drew close to him and she saw the desires in them, his skin had squirmed underneath her touch, and she felt she could see his mouth growing moister though his teeth were clenched. Jord held all of his attention for one moment, and it was just another victory. Between their carnal needs and desires, mortals would do anything, and their weak, impressionable minds could be molded to turn that anything, and eventually everything they did into what she wanted. What Morgoth wanted. What Morgoth commanded.

Uldor’s words were filled with emotion that was wasted on Jord’s ears. She was deaf to almost everything he said now, out of choice. His words did not matter, and they certainly bored her when he started repeating himself. His attention, his mind was secured: that was all that mattered.

“With your lips you would kiss me and promise me wealth and power, and with your left hand you would trust a dagger into my heart and give my blood to Morgoth. You would rather see me crawl at your feet than be an honorable man…”

He may have been delusional, but he was quite right about her. The man knew it, and yet he could not resist her or her promises. The more often she put the plate in front of him, the more tempting it would be for him to gobble it up. And nearly every last Ulfing knew how bad Prince Uldor was at resisting temptation, when he even bothered to try. Perhaps he had a few more wits about him now that he knew that his father could only do so much, particularly in the state the old man was in. An honorable man, though, Uldor son of Ulfang had never been and never would be. Honor required sacrifice, and this boy was all about himself.

“I will stand on my own - without your help.”

It was just another thing he had never grown out of.

Jord watched Uldor storm off with something close to glee, though it soon passed. As he made his way back into the city she examined her wrist and the light red mark he had left around it. It would stand out from the rest of her skin for a little while yet. Was she to think herself lucky to have a body with such smooth, milky skin that the hand of a lecherous dog would leave a mark on her? These women were weaker even than that man, all of them, in body and spirit.

She had learned in her stay that not only did they allow themselves to become “wives” and serve fools they called “husbands” as if there were loyalty involved, but were to desire this. Apparently, they even believed they required…protection. Apparently, in the little world of mortals, regardless of how many toys they were given or found to play with, from swords to fire to thrones and shiny objects, they would always fight amongst themselves, to the point that man and woman became different, when all would be but corpses in a blink of an immortal’s eye.

Apparently, women were the weaker sex in this world of mortals. But in the body of one, she would be responsible for the destruction of so many beings, mortal and immortal, that the carrion birds would block out the sun for days.

Smiling, Jord returned to her chambers, her amusement only encouraged by the way everyone she passed by in the dusty roads turned to look at her. They muttered to each other biting rumours, a common side effect of the human disease, which could only help her cause. Most had seen her, and seen her with Uldor. They knew what sort of man he was, and so it was commonly assumed that her position was a mistress likely of uncivilized origins. Perhaps if enough simple minds around him believed it, the little prince would be convinced of it himself.

“Ah, my dear Brodda,” she said, the words rolling off her tongue with smooth delight as she closed the door to her bedchamber behind her. The rough looking man lounged on her couch, and though she spoke to him, she did not spare him a glance. She did not like acknowledging his presence more than she had to. He was useful, but was only decent to look at even by the standards of his people. And she did not like the thought of any mortal pig making himself comfortable in her bedroom.

“Did you enjoy the company of Elves in the court this morning?”
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Old 02-08-2007, 12:07 PM   #98
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Tora had felt her blood become cold in her veins when she saw Ulfast entering Dag's forge. Not only that the man was feared in the settlement, but there was also the fact that he-the chieftain's son-had caught Dag disobeying his orders. And all of this, reflected Tora, all of this was her fault. If Dag was to get in trouble-and that was more than likely to happen, by the look of things,-it would be only because of her. If something was to happen to Dag, Tora would never be able to forget that it had been her father's knife that had brought this situation upon him.

Yet could she stay and watch without interfering? Should she not try and do something? Indeed she felt that her obligation was to say something, anything that would help Dag. So, mustering her courage and rejecting the thought of getting away from there while she was still unobserved, she started speaking:

"My lord," she began, trying to keep her voice steady and confident, "I...I should tell you that it is all my fault. It was I who came here and...and distracted Master Dag with my foolish talking. I know I should not have, and, indeed, I would not have done it had I known that I was hindering him from such a grand task. My lord, once more I assure you, the blame is entirely mine."

She stopped, unable to go any further. She could feel the tension in the room growing stronger, and she wondered uneasily whether she had not made matters worse with her foolish meddling.
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Old 02-08-2007, 02:36 PM   #99
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Khandr's party: Fastarr

Fastarr was filling his pipe after a most gratifying dinner of which all the guests had been openly thankful to their lord and his ladies. He hadn't eaten this well and in this good company in ages, at least that was how he felt. This staying at the Ulfing settlement had been such a depressing experience. And how he had hoped that Khandr would have thrown this party to announce their quick return home... But those seemed like vain dreams now. And he thought he understood what his lord thought and what might be at stake. He had felt uneasy towards this whole town all the time but now as Khandr had spoken he was getting convinced about being right with it.

After Khandr had given his list of duties to everyone Fastarr lit his pipe and puffed it concentratedly to make it alight well enough. Then he took a long puff and leaned backwards in his chair closing his eyes, thinking all that his lord had said. The smoke poured slowly from his nostrils.

"Lord Khandr, with your permission...", he suddenly addresed Khandr and pulled the pipe from his lips blowing the rest of the smoke towards the roof.

"I do have a slight concern. If we all suddenly approach these brothers tomorrow or the next day while we have had little or no contact with them during our whole stay here, then even how discreet or careful we are they will probably be able to deduce the obvious. I mean one of them just needs to notify another in a side note that one of the Borrim came to him today and the other one will go, "oh I was addressed by one too", and there it is. Maybe one of us should contact one of them personally, but the other two should concentrate on their servants?"

Fastarr took a couple of puffs from his pipe and eyed the others while he leaned forwards.

"I'm not sure how we should share this. As your retainer I might be given an errand by you my lord and I could contact Ulwarth with it? Or maybe we could come up with something for Hunta to query from Uldor concerning the hunting grounds? Or Bergr, do you have any ideas?"

He pulled back again and puffed his pipe yet a few more times. But abruptly he leaned back forwards as he had remembered something.

"Wait a minute. I know one we should go for. There is an Uldor's servant called Crogulf who's something of a drunkard. He sits quite regularly at the Dragontail Inn as long as I know. At least he has been there most of the times I have visited that shadowy place. One of us should have a pint or two with him... I can do it as I know him from his looks but it's also easy to tell you his characteristics, he's one you can't miss after a short description of his nose." With that Fastarr smiled and draw back again.

"If there would be any way we could have a word with those elves... what a pity there probably isn't without consulting the Ulfings first..." He inhaled the smoke with great pleasure and closed his eyes just to feel the substance spreading through his body.

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Old 02-09-2007, 09:49 AM   #100
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A crease of irritation flashed across Dag’s brow at Tora’s words, but he quickly regained an expression of calm detachment. Curse the girl for trying to deflect Ulfast’s ire onto herself. If the young chieftain’s wrath was roused over this, Dag’s part would not be overlooked merely upon the mewling of a farmer’s daughter. If Ulfast chose, he would have both their heads, and no-one to stay his hand. Her explanations would not be enough to save either of them.

Dag looked directly at Ulfast and saw the glint of a grim sort of amusement in the man’s eyes. The lordling was baiting him, waiting to hear what words would come tumbling out of his mouth. The truth would be frowned upon; a lie, if discovered, unforgivable. Dag chose his words with great care.

“It’s as the girl says, my lord. She has indeed filled the air with the useless prattle of women, while I repaired her father’s knife.” Dag gestured at the cold blade. “As you well know, the metal must rest between firings, to temper the blade and make it strong. I thought ‘twas better to put such time to good use, rather than stand idle.” Something of a mongrel mixture of the truth, but no outright lie that could be brought back to him. Dag gambled on his experience with those who looked upon him as a subordinate, calculating that Ulfast would not be willing to risk seeming ignorant of the armorer’s craft in order to challenge the smith's explanation.

The corner of Ulfast’s mouth twitched slightly, and, without looking at her, Dag could tell that Tora was holding her breath in fear of what their chieftain might say. A long moment of silence stretched out between the three, Dag sensing that Ulfast was making some calculations of his own. Hoping to tip the balance in his own favor, and that of the girl, Dag offered into the silence, “I can not complete the sword by tonight, my lord. But I can bring it to the point where it bears the appearance of a fully crafted weapon. You may carry it and no-one would know that the blade has not been fully worked. What need would there be at such a celebration for more?”
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Old 02-09-2007, 11:56 AM   #101
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'Ulfast! How could one even think they could get close to such a man? And who would want to?'

Bergr's first thoughts upon hearing of his assignment were hardly positive. Ulfast's reputation far preceded him, and though Bergr knew there were times that the lordling walked alone and without guard, he also knew of his derision toward the Borrim. No, speaking with Ulfast himself was certainly out of the question, another option would have to be found.

Fastarr's words of concern echoed his own thoughts, and the suggestion that a servant should be spoken to rather than the lords themselves seemed good to him. Yet he knew that servants who would speak against their masters to those that asked were few and far between. But perhaps, yes, perhaps his help toward the women of the village might allow him to find another way to get information. He knew that one of those he delivered meat to was a friend of the wife of Gora, Ulfast's manservant. He also knew that this wife bore little love for her husband, and so it was possible that she would speak to him. He shook his head slightly in amusement, well aware that he was thinking like a gossiping woman, but if it helped them find out what was going on then so be it.

Sitting up in his chair Bergr offered his explanation.

"My lord, if I may ... I believe I may be able to gain knowledge of what is going on around Ulfast from the wife of his manservant. The words of a woman in such matters are often overlooked as idle talk, yet I think she will provide information of use. Also, she may know about more than just Ulfast if she talks with the wives of the servants of the other brothers. I will attempt to arrange a meet with her tomorrow and if nothing comes of it then I will find another way."

Lifting his mug to his lips once more he mused over the possibilities, and found himself hoping that Gora would be able to provide something of use, as the prospect of getting close to Ulfast was not one he relished.
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Old 02-09-2007, 01:38 PM   #102
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Khandr listened carefully to what Bergr and Fastarr had proposed, nodding his head in agreement, "Fine ideas, both of you. Yes....servants and their wives are often excellent sources of information. There's been a time or two when negotiations have bogged down for a treaty and I managed to get a key piece of the puzzle from sources just like these. Definitely go ahead and do these things. Still, I wonder, if we might try another approach at the same time, perhaps a wider one that snares in more than a few victims at once."

Khandr glanced over at Fastarr and fixed his eyes on him, "It was what you said that made me think of it. You spoke of 'the hunting grounds'. A man feels most comfortable dealing with what he knows rather than sitting inside with the women folk. You three have skills in hunting that wholly eclipse my own and, if I am not mistaken, Embla also has had experience with such things. . Even the Ulfangs would have to admit privately that the Borrim's ability to ferret out and track down game far exceeds their own. Perhaps we have been remiss in our duties to our hosts. We need to pay them back for their generosity by offering to use our skills to lead them out on a day of hunting in the deep woods to track down a great boar or bear. We will promise them a hunt the likes of which they have never seen! Confidences are often exchanged deep in the forest that would never be shared inside a great hall. And as to the Elves," Khandr's voice trailed off. "I have heard that, even with all their book learning and strange tastes, they still relish the chase after a mighty buck. So perhaps, just perhaps, we will snare both the men and the Elves in the same net."

"I can see it now," Khandr mused. "All the common folk will be gathered on the green at dawn, preparing a fine breakfast for those lords and their vassals about to depart into the woods. And of course I will gladly supply all the victuals. Perhaps even the women will ride off to hunt rabbits and other small game, and exchange confidences along the path. If we keep our eyes and ears open, we may hear much, both from the great lords and their humbler retainers. And, of course, each of you will be appointed as a guide for the particular lord whose name you hold."

"But would the Ulfangs accept such an offer? Wouldn't they see through what we are doing?" A small voice piped up from the edge of the table.

"I do not know. I have not brooched this topic with any of the Ulfang lords. But we will never know till we try. What say you? Do you think this is an idea worth pursuing?"

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Old 02-11-2007, 04:31 PM   #103
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In spite of himself, Ulfast was amused by the scene playing around him. The girl's frightened, nervous loyalty and the smith's clear irritation at her interference intrigued Ulfast. There was, perhaps, more between them than the matter of the knife. Whether or not it was true, that was a tale Ulfast could use if needed to keep the smith under his control.

"Blame, girl? I am certain there is none. Master Dag is a man wise in his craft, and I think that he would do nothing foolish, even at the behest of so charming a maid." A smile danced faintly on Ulfast's face as he spoke, eyes darting from the girl to Dag in search of any hint of embarrassment from either.

"As to the sword, you speak truly. I should have no need of your blade in battle tonight. Come then, as you say, and present it in ceremony this evening, to be taken back to the forge when the feast has ended."

The smith's forehead seemed to lose a few of its creases. "Yes, my lord," he answered.

From inside, Ulfast heard the faint tones of a melody. The voice was low, but clear and sweet. "Who sings within?" he asked.

A frown passed quickly over Dag's brow. "It is my wife's sister, my lord."

"A fine voice."

Dag remained silent.

"Ah! How foolish of me. Of course. It is said that a truly fair-voiced maid, both in song and in story, lives within the village. I had forgotten that she was kin to you. Her name is Mem, is it not?"

"Yes. Mem is my wife's sister."

Ulfast grinned. "Then, my good man, will you not bring her with you when you present the sword tonight? Her voice would grace our halls well." Dropping his voice as if in confidence, Ulfast added, "I say this not in command, but ask it rather in friendship. What say you?"

The smile remained on Ulfast's lips. Here was a chance for a test of the smith's loyalties.

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Old 02-11-2007, 04:39 PM   #104
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"I do not know. I have not brooched this topic with any of the Ulfang lords. But we will never know till we try. What say you? Do you think this is an idea worth pursuing?" Khandr ended and looked at the party questioningly.

Well, there's the difference between a lord and a retainer... One thinks big and the other one doesn't. One thinks of Great Hunting parties involving everyone around while the other thinks of some petty servants drunken in some shadowy Inn as he doesn't wish to see anyone of rank face to face... Fastarr shook his head and smiled openly to his own thoughts. Soon he noticed his lord's gaze on him and was embarrassed as he clearly understood how Khandr might have interpreted his expressions. Khandr needed not to stage the question.

"Oh, Khandr, I do hope you excuse me my lord. I was just laughing to the narrow-mindedness of my own thought... That was an excellent idea and you'll have my backing for it. But when would that take place?" Fastarr tried to evade any overall attention to himself as he was not used to it and felt it a bit awkward in general, not to say when he had been caught behaving in a way inappropriate to his stature among the kinsmen.

"The day after tomorrow the earliest. We couldn't possibly make the arrangements for tomorrow and if these Ulfings have any decency they'll throw a party in honour of the Elven embassadors tomorrow anyway", Khandr replied and looked at Fastarr quizzically.

"So this pathetic village is getting into a festive season, then?" It was Hugo who had come to clear the table from the dishes of the last courses, bustling about the visitors.

"Some hot honeyed-wine perhaps? And some cookies too?" Fastarr asked Hugo as he was collecting the last plates from beside his shoulder. Khandr nodded and Hugo went his way to fulfill the request.

There was a moment of silence around the table as everyone seemed to be chewing the things that had been said. Fastarr felt again that he was not able to hold his tongue. Have I drank too much or have the others had too little? Just too many things going around in my head...So he opened his mouth again.

"If we wish to have all the options open here, would there then be any believable cause for which you could send me as your caretaker to meet one of the brothers, my lord? I'm ready to do it if you wish and if I have the cover of an official mission by you." Fastarr glanced around and continued.

"I understand it's your duty to inform Ulfang himself of your intentions regarding the staging of the Great Hunt, but maybe I should be sent by you to approach one of the brothers with some details concerning the arrangements afterwards? I could then at least try to sneak out something as we could easily speak of the ambassadors and all that has followed then while dealing with the bussiness."

Fastarr looked at Khandr and emptied his goblet.
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Old 02-11-2007, 04:46 PM   #105
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The feast had, on many levels, worked out better for Embla than she could ever have expected. For one thing, she had the petty pleasure of her tetchy exchange with Fastarr, an encounter where she felt she had the advantage. And now, she had been given a task by her anxious husband – to shadow the strange female, Jord.

Embla paid little attention to the intense and anxious conversations which followed Khandr’s spying plan. Instead, she mulled over her own assignment – an assignment which pleased her greatly. Firstly, this Jord was the person in the settlement who interested her the most. Obsessed with her own situation, thinking herself little more than Khandr’s chattel, Embla assumed that Jord’s s relation to the Lord Uldor was something similar. But yet the woman Jord carried herself with an air of pride and independence. This in itself excited Embla’s interest, even envy. Naturally inclined to subterfuge, she relished the prospect of stalking of this dark, strange woman. Whether she would then share any of her insights or observations with her much-resented lord was of course another matter.

But there was another, more healthy side to Embla’s pleasure in her task. This suggestion of her husband gave her an unprecedented licence to roam, a personal liberty she had long yearned for. One of Embla’s chief grievances about her life as a Borrim wife was the restrictions placed on her movements and interests. Women like Briga, Borrim born and bred, happily accepted their restricted sphere. But it was not what she, Embla, had been accustomed to, and the confinement chafed her to distraction. Now, Khandr had as good as told his second wife she could wander as her fancy took her – with his blessing. Embla smiled to herself in anticipation – and for once it really was a smile, not a smirk.
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Old 02-12-2007, 12:17 AM   #106
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"My friend," Khandr smiled broadly and thumped his retainer on the back. "An excellent idea. Excellent indeed! To go and speak with Ulfang's sons on a matter pertaining to the hunt would work well, both in terms of getting information and setting matters on a sound, practical basis. Fastarr, Bergr, and Hunta--perhaps each of you should pay a visit to the lord whose name you have been assigned and ask his preference as to the particular game he would prefer to hunt. That way, we could arrange for two or even three smaller contingents to set out after different prey."

Khandr stood up and walked over to the window staring out at the street. He rubbed his hands together and shook his head slowly, "Yes, I think that would work well: to split up the party so that the three sons would not always be side-by-side. Perhaps they would open up a bit more. "

"And my dear wives," Khandr looked around to where Briga and Embla were seated. "Neither of you have said anything, at the table but then you are less accustomed to speaking in company such as this. I hope our plans meet with your approval. Perhaps you can find some reason to approach the ladies assigned to you in the next few days, either to hear their preferences in the matter of game or, more likely, invite them to a breakfast on the green the morning of the hunt, should they prefer more sedentary occupations."

It was Briga who spoke up first. "My lord, I have no complaints about the instructions you have given us. Though I would rather be home near our children, I know these things must be done. I only ask one simple thing. We must have at least two days to prepare for the food and other practical arrangements."

"Two days? Then two days you shall have.... I can not go see Ulfang at least until tomorrow. Indeed I will be lucky to get in to see him even then. And the hunt can not take place until at least the day after that. So you and Embla will have your two days to get ready and pay a visit to the ladies."

"What bothers me more are those Elves. I have not even been called to the hall or officially told of these messengers' arrival. So how can I boldly introduce myself and invite these visitors to a festive event? Perhaps I will have to let Ulfang know I have heard of their arrival and ask him to approach them for me. A ticklish situation. Very ticklish indeed!"

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Old 02-12-2007, 06:22 AM   #107
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The Bothersome Elves

Even as Khandr was wondering how to make contact with the Elven ambassadors, the same Elves were attempting to find the Borrim diplomat's tent.

Lachrandir had ridden in pursuit of boars in the marshes and copses of Thargelion. He had pursued and slain fell creatures on the outskirts of Neldoreth. He had scoured plains for Orc fugitives after the Dagor Aglareb. He had seen fortifications rise from empty vales, and helped Caranthir to plan the severe sword-strokes of Noldorin roads.

But searching for Khandr was proving a greater challenge than any of this. The cobbles had long since given way on the paths to mud; the dwellings and the air grew more unlovely; the streets harder to define; even the widest tents and most tall-gabled houses were difficult to distinguish from each other.

"Stange, the beauty of this eve's sky," he muttered to Tathren, "and then these mud-spattered homes beneath it, animals and beasts, leather hide and mud brinks, all illluminated by Arien's bronze rays..."

Tathren looked slightly surprised, but did not comment. Clearly he had never seen his adopted uncle in such a poetical mood before. Lachrandir had apparently also been alarmed at his own words; he shook his head, as if to clear thoughts that disturbed him.

"We have long past the smithy the Ulfing back yonder told us of," he concluded. "One of those two larger homesteads must be the...house...of Khandr. "

"Perhaps both," Tathren suggested.

"That's a sharp thought, boy. These men are not as we are, nor do they observe the customs of the Edain in the north; I have heard of some with more than one household, to keep up more than one wife, though it is a thing I understand little of."

An agreement silently passed between them, and they walked quickly up to the opening which served as the threshold of the left-hand building. No attendant seemed posted at it, but voices could be heard, and a dim firelight glimpsed within.

"Am I now at the House of Khandr?" Lachrandir called in the Ulfing dialect, which he spoke with facility if little formal mastery of intonation...

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Old 02-14-2007, 01:49 AM   #108
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As the messenger's words carried through the corridor to the room where the Borrim were seated, Khandr pushed back his chair and stood up abruptly. The approaching footsteps were barely audible. If it had not been for the initial spoken words, he would not have been aware of his visitors' presence, whoever that visitor might be. Khandr was not expecting other guests tonight. Indeed, in the long months they had been in the village, their Ulfang neighbors had shown absolutely no interest in paying social calls after dark. Briga glanced at her husband and queried nervously, "Who is there?"

"I do not know. But I can not think of worse timing." Khandr shook his head. He faced the others and explained, "I asked the servants to leave, once dinner was served, so there would be no one in the house to overhear the conversation."

A voice near the end of the table whispered. "But how long were they there? Did they hear us before?"

Not waiting to reply, Khandr pulled out a small dagger from his belt and gestured that Fastarr and Hunta should retrieve their weapons and accompany him. The three walked out of the room together and proceeded slowly down the dark hallway until they stood beside a pair of impossibly tall strangers, barely visible under the gutted light of the wall torch.

The guest repeated his earlier question, "Am I now in the House of Khandr?"

Khandr had heard that type of accent before but it seemed so out of place in this mundane village that he failed to appreciate it for what it was. He replied in a cold, stern tone that conveyed a meaning far different than his surface words. "Yes, this is the House of Khandr, and how may I help you?"

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Old 02-14-2007, 05:00 PM   #109
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Brodda

Brodda had spent much of his time in his lord’s hall since the Elves had made their proclamation. He had watched Ulfang’s vassals, listening to their conversations and their scheming. That had not been so much of a bother, as it was his usual task. But, he had not gathered much information at all. Mostly, the Ulfings were wasting their time with discussions of the Elves, something Brodda could care less for.

So, with nothing much to do Uldor’s right hand went in search of his master. Certainly not in the mood to check everywhere Ulfang’s eldest could be, he went to the most likely spot. He checked Uldor’s bedchamber, but there was no sign of him there. It didn’t even look as if he had even gone back to his room since the events in the hall. Thinking perhaps his master might be waiting for him, Brodda searched his own abode. And yet again, there was no sign of Uldor. “Hmm…Where else could he be,” the Ulfing wondered. Then, he remembered one other place. Jord, the strange female, had Uldor’s ear and he often visited her ‘home’. Exiting his dwelling, Brodda set off towards Jord’s residence. Along the way, a few Ulfings tried to stop and chat with him, but he blew them off. He had important business to take care of and had no time for the peons he felt they were.

Brodda himself had never been in Jord’s chambers. The few times he accompanied Uldor, he had remained outside. But he knew enough of what had gone on within, and to a degree he himself had become involved with the mysterious woman after approaching her at other times. But those all occurred with his boss around. He pressed his ear to the entryway, and hearing no one inside, thought to withdraw and wait for Uldor to find him. But a bit of curiosity overwhelmed Brodda, and he pushed his way in, hoping to go unseen.

Jord’s hovel was not as impressive as he had hoped. Shrugging off his misconceptions, he plopped himself down on a couch to wait for the missing occupant. Now was as good a time as any to get more involved, and perhaps it could undermine Uldor’s quest for power and at the same time increase his own chances for more of it.

When Jord finally arrived, she did not bother to look at him, asking her question with what seemed to be a hint of sarcasm. “The Elves are not what I would call ‘enjoyable’ company. Now you, Jord, are much more like what I might call enjoyable company,” Brodda replied with a laugh. “But, to business. I don’t want Uldor finding out about this little meeting of ours. So, are you interested in a proposition I have, dear Jord?”
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Old 02-17-2007, 11:22 AM   #110
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For Tathren the day had become less enjoyable as it had passed . The exhiliration of riding fast and far and the novelty of the ulfings settlement had been succeeded by an unprecedented need for self control. Never in his short life (by the measure of his kind) had he been required to remain as still or as silent for so long, witness to meetings at which he had little part to play. Long-limbed and spirited as the colt that had bore him here, he was just as apt as the beast to become restive when constrained.

Even had he been bound to his lord by ties of duty only, their reception might have been provocation enough for Tathren to show the latent fire in his nature but the day's progress had brought also a greater attachment to his master. This was due to the glimpses Lachrandir had allowed behind the chilly hauteur that was the usual demeanour of the comparions of Caranthir, rather than simply their isolation among strangers. Tathren could not imagine his true uncle waxing lyrical about a sunset even momentarily - nor would he have praised his nephew so generously.

Cold speech was one thing drawn blades another and Tathren unsheathed his his own. The blade crafted by his father and born in battle by his uncle would be keener that anything these stunted creatures might have: the resemblance to dwarves he deemed would not extend so far as weaponnsmithing. He had a working knowledge of the mortals language and though he thought it as crude as its speakers his passion gave him a certain eloquence:

"You can help by addressing, my lord Lachrandir, emissary of Caranthir Feanorion with the courtesy that is his due". Tathren had not raised his knife but his height meant that its tip was close to the speaker's heart.

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Old 02-20-2007, 03:21 PM   #111
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Dag regarded the chieftain’s son, knowing that Ulfast knew he could not refuse the politely framed “request”, despite the man’s unctuous words of friendship. Well, he could in fact refuse, but he did not relish the thought of having to look over his shoulder the rest of his days, however long those might be. The smith realized he was being let off the hook for the sword, with Ulfast apparently choosing not to go down the road that would have revealed the full truth of Dag’s foolish choice. Inwardly, Dag cursed himself for an idiot for letting his feelings overtake his reason. But if the lordling was willing to let it go, Dag was certainly not going to step wrong now and show disrespect by turning down what was clearly a great honor which the chieftain was willing to bestow on his sister-in-law.

Dag bowed his stiff neck accordingly, although he did not lower his eyes, as he replied, “My lord, you honor my family by such an invitation. I will bring my sister by marriage when I bring your sword and she will sing for you, at your pleasure.” Dag could hear Gunna’s voice even as he spoke, ringing in his head, her words of protest and fear echoes of his own misgivings which he carefully kept hidden. He had himself never been present at a great feast the type of which Ulfast and his father and brothers must be contemplating for the honoring of such important emissaries. But he had attended a smattering of the chieftains’ nights of uproarious carousing in the great hall and knew they could get quite wild, with drink and boasting and jests turning to fights in the blink of an eye. He could only hope this feast would be conducted with more decorum, as perhaps Ulfang would strive to impress the elves. Dag could only plan to stay close to Mem and hustle her away just as soon as she was no longer required. He dreaded having to go back to his house and break the news to his wife. Mem herself, so gentle and so unworldlywise in many ways, would probably take it as nothing more than a great lark, to have the chance to attend such a gathering and to sing for such exalted guests. But Gunna . . .

Knowing that he still had several hours of work to do yet on the sword, Dag told himself he was not choosing the coward’s path by picking up the farmer’s knife and handing it to Tora, saying, “Here, girl. You’d best be on your way home. Run along to my house on the way and let the women know of the great honor our lord does us, and that I will be by at sunset to escort my sister to the great hall.”
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Old 02-21-2007, 04:33 PM   #112
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If truth be told, Lachrandir had been on the point of reacting to the surly reception of the Easterlings in rather the same manner that his page had just done. His hand had travelled quickly to the dirk at his side, meant for just such emergencies. But seeing Tathren respond to aggression with aggression made the elder Elf realise the policy's dangers.

"Steady, boy," he said in Quenya, laying his left hand on his companion's shoulder. His cold gaze did not deviate from the men in front of him, and he addressed them now, to make matters quite clear, in Sindarin, not their own language. The grey-elven tongue was understood by most of the Atani, though Easterlings especially often stumbled when speaking in it. But these Men were supposed to be Borrim, from the north, and to them it should be familiar enough.

"If you want a brawl, my page Tathren has shown you he is quite willing to bestow one upon you! For myself, I had rather not. We have come in all honesty and courtesy to talk to this Khandr, your master, the envoy from Himring. Much has transpired at the Hall that it is needful for him to know."

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Old 02-22-2007, 12:58 PM   #113
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Tora was glad that the incident with the chieftain's son had come to nothing worse, although she knew how close they had both o been to greater trouble. And as for Ulfast's request, it seemed a really starnge one to make. True, Mem was well-known for her fair voice, but that was not a reason for the chieftain's son to appear so suddenly intrested in her. If he really was intrested, that is, and there was not something hidden in his intention to see her. Something in the man's eyes and in the tone of his voice made Tora thing that was more than likely.

As Dag handed her the knife, Tora was abruptly brought back from her musings. Suddenly, with a pang of concern, she remembered that her father had sent her only to fetch his knife and then come back as quickly as possible, and that she should have been home hours ago to help her mother with dinner. She would be in deep trouble now, and she knew it. She always was when she came home late. Therefore, she took her father's knife and, after a few hurried words of gratitude to Dag, she ran out of the forge.

Yet anxious as she was to reach home as soon as possible and mend her situation as best she could, Tora resolved to take Dag's message to his wife and her sister. But she could not help wondering whether she was right in doing so. Who knew what Ulfast wanted? Tora and Mem were best friends, and Tora did not want to lead the girl to any harm. Yet there was nothing for it, and Mem would find out anyway, as Dag was bound to tell her. Therefore, she hurried towards Dag's house. She did not enter it however, but shouted from the door:

"Gunna, Mem, it's me, Tora. Dag told me to say...he told me to announce you that the Lord Ulfast, our chieftain's son wishes... that he wants Mem to come to the feast he is giving tonight and to sing for him."

Tora spoke hurriedly, stumbling with the words, wanting to end her errand as a messenger as soon as possible. After she had finished, she left without waiting for the two women's reply, wihtout even making sure that they had heard her.

Now she was on her way home. The day had been eventful, she thought, and she knew from experience that such days were bound to end in an even more eventful manner. Why, even the day when...But no, she had promised herself she would never think of that again, that she would try to forget it. The rest of the village had long forgotten, why couldn't she?

With these troubled thoughts, Tora reached her house. She entered it quickly, thinking that she might as well explain everything to her parents and get this over with so she could be allowed some peace afterwards. She began speaking, as if she was repeating a well-rehearsed speech:

"I..I know I should have been here long ago and I am sorry that I was unable to come sooner. Yet master Dag had other things on his hands, errands more pressing than the mending of a mere farmer's knife. So I had to wait."

She said nothing of her meeting with Ulfast at the forge. She knew she would have to speak of it if her father confronted her to tell her more of her reasons for returning so late, but she still felt she had better avoid this subject as much as she could. She did not want her father to know that she had risked the wrath of the chieftain's son to fall upon her and, most likely, upon her entire family also, for the sake of Dag and his own safety.
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Old 02-22-2007, 03:04 PM   #114
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Disease

Jord whirled around to finally face the man lounging on her couch, her skirts swishing softly. She did not bother to wipe the smirk off of her face that had formed when Brodda spoke. Scanning his body with her eyes, she calculated his strength, and how pleasant his appearance might be to mortals. Comparing him to Uldor, she thought it likely that Brodda was not considered as attractive, if at all: his structure was completely different. Perhaps a pleasing appearance could be helpful, but what Jord observed from the man’s behavior was even more so: an extreme opportunist nature. There was no loyalty between Brodda and his master, only various desires and business exchanges. She would not need to do much prying to loosen the two, and play them against each other.

“A proposition, my dear? I’m dying to hear.” Jord had to try to keep the sarcasm out of her voice. She did want to hear what the man had to say: another glimpse into his head, and another connection through whatever this proposition entailed could only help her tighten her hold on him. “Dying” was impossible, though. Impossible. She was Thuringwethil, favored servant of Sauron and thus nearly as favored to Morgoth himself. All sick smiles were wiped from her face as she thought of the Lord Sauron. Oh how she missed her Master, and the pleasures he could give her. She was growing hungrier by the day for as rich of blood as she had bathed in under his service. But she knew the Great Lord Melkor would reward her greatly for her service. And even if he did not…she was bound, and she would serve. Jord would do anything for the favor of Morgoth. It was what her Sauron would want.

“Though I hope you have some information for me, as well, like you promised,” she added, a small, knowing smile once again adorning her full lips. Jord purposefully left her statement open, to see whether the man fulfilled her request for information first or only after he voiced this “proposition” of his. She did not care what he decided, but she was a little interested in seeing what he did do. Sometimes it was just fun to play with these animals, and it was surprising what you could learn about how their little brains worked if you let them try and make a decision for themselves. At least in a controlled environment – otherwise it was very likely a setup for disaster.

Jord glided over to a heavy, high-backed wooden chair made of austere dark wood and carved with stern straight lines. She sat down gracefully, arranged her skirts, and rested her soft arms on the hardwood ones of the chair. Brodda’s close connection to Uldor meant that she had seem and spoken with him a number of times, and she had quickly earned a fraction of his allegiance. She put some interesting opportunities on his plate, including simple things like money, and the shadow of power. To hungry eyes, shadows became real, as they came to life at night to a weak and frightened heart.

The last time they had spoken Jord had asked him to observe the fairly newly arrived Borrims. They were secondary to the other, more recent Elven visitors, but they were still pieces of interest. Unlike the Ulfings, they had been seduced by the Elvish tongue, the hot air that was their pride. And because of that, they would fall to their brother-tribe. But all in due time. For now, they would be staying in the city in peace, and soft ears could very well be tempted by what they had to say. Anyone who could not be placed on the track Jord laid out was a possible danger. The Borrim were a tiny scratch in the body of the plan, and though they had no power, if ignored infection could set in. And the minds of Men were breeding grounds for such disease.
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Old 02-27-2007, 03:36 PM   #115
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Gunna and Mem turned their heads towards the door at the sound of Tora’s voice. Thinking the girl had forgotten to pass along some bit of gossip to Mem, Gunna barely heeded Tora’s words as she shifted the now sleeping child to a more comfortable position in her lap. Mem, however, gave a sharp intake of breath, causing Gunna’s mind to focus on the fact that Tora had not bothered to step inside, and the girl’s words finally registered.

“Gunna, Mem, it's me, Tora. Dag told me to say...he told me to announce to you that the Lord Ulfast, our chieftain's son wishes... that he wants Mem to come to the feast he is giving tonight and to sing for him.“

The sisters exchanged startled and unbelieving looks. Hurriedly, Gunna placed her daughter in Mem’s arms and leapt to her feet, moving quickly to the door and poking her head out. The narrow street was crowded with townspeople hurrying about their business, anxious to get home to afternoon tasks and preparations for the evening meal. Gunna could just make out the back of Tora’s head as the girl walked swiftly in the direction of the east gate. “Tora! Tora – wait! What did you say?” Gunna’s cries went unheeded as the girl slipped out of sight, not having heard her friend’s calls.

Or perhaps Tora did not wish to have to repeat herself, Gunna thought grimly, realizing that she had undoubtedly heard aright – her husband had somehow obligated Mem to entertain Ulfast and his cronies . . . ? At a feast?

Shaking her head in confusion, Gunna drew back inside the growing dimness of her little house, saying “Stir the embers, Mem, and lay some wood on the fire. Fetch the roasting spit and I’ll start on this venison.”

Mem did as instructed, but her sister knew the young girl was bursting with unvoiced questions. It was not until the meat had been well rubbed with salt and sage and hung dripping over the flames, and Gunna had thrust a bowl of parsnips into Mem’s hands for peeling that the girl ventured to speak.

“What do you make of Tora’s words, sister?” Mem asked, trying to keep her tone casual, but failing utterly.

Gunna shook her head once more, truly having no answer. “I can’t fathom it, Mem. How is it that Ulfast, son of our highest chieftain, bids you sing at his feast? And what feast is this Tora spoke of? I know the Borrim were feasting this night, but I’ve heard nothing of Ulfast, or his father or brothers for that matter. I can only think it must have to do with the elves.” Again, Gunna felt a now familiar tightening of her stomach muscles as the thought of the emissaries and their message filled her heart with foreboding. She looked at her sister, a frown of uncertainty on her face. “Did Kata or the others speak of it before I arrived home?”

Mem shook her head in the negative. “No. They said no word of it, as I’m sure they would have if they had known something of it. Do . . . do you think then, that . . . “ The girl’s voice trailed off, not wanting to sound too eager for Tora’s words to be true, but hoping with all her heart they were so. She knew her sister well enough to realize that Gunna would be dead set against her going to such a gathering. Yet still, her own heart knew no heaviness, but beat brightly and joyously at the prospect of attending, and actually singing, at a chieftain’s fete. Even now, her mind was racing with thoughts of which songs might best please such a man as Ulfast, and the other lords and chiefs.

“I don’t know what to think.” Gunna replied, somewhat sharply. “All I know is that my husband sends word of such a happening through another, and that itself does not bode well – for any of us.”

Mem took the reprimand quietly and kept about her peeling, knowing in the end it would be Dag who decided whether she went or stayed, not Gunna. Much as she loved her sister, the girl knew in a matter such as this, with a chieftain beckoning, a wife could not well refuse to obey her husband, just as he could not refuse his lord.

Gunna’s lips were set in a tight line. She needed desperately to speak with Dag, to find out what had transpired, how this had all come about. But she had already absented herself from the home once today, with a mixed result. She did not feel comfortable leaving once again, leaving her sister and child alone, unguarded, now that she knew that somehow Mem had come to the attention of one of Ulfang’s son. It was no secret that Mem had a beautiful voice and knew many songs. Most of the women around had visited with them a time or two, to trade for yarn and thread, and gossip. Mem was popular with their neighbors, not only for her good humor and gentle ways, but her wit and ability to make even the sourest matrons laugh. But for word of her abilities to have reached as far as the ears of one such as Ulfast, no, Gunna would never have expected that. It was with a growing suspicion, and fear, that Gunna wondered if this was yet another ploy on the part of the chieftain’s son to draw Dag into his clutches and bind her husband to him. On the eve of the arrival of these messengers from the north, perhaps Ulfast saw a need for a skilled smith, and armorer in his camp.

Wiping blood from her hands, Gunna lifted Mem’s hand to turn the spit, taking the bowl of parsnips from her. In resignation, she said heavily, “We will wait, for Dag. He will tell us what we must do.”

Last edited by bill_n_sam; 02-27-2007 at 03:45 PM.
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Old 03-01-2007, 12:13 PM   #116
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Feeling the pressure of his master's words and hand, Tathren lowered his blade but did not replace it in its scabbard. He would wait for the men to sheathe their own weapons first. He tapped the blade's tip gently against his boot as an outlet for his irritation. In the torchlight his pale face was no longer fierce, merely a little sulky.

His action had been impetuous but it had been fueled by a noble instinct, or so he preferred to think. Yet Lachrandir seemed to think he had been merely spoiling for a fight, like an argumentative drunkard in an alehouse. Tathren considered if this was the case. Losing his temper and pulling a knife had hardly been the most dignified course of action but should he have done nothing when his Lord had received a show of steel in response to his simple enquiry? On such thoughts was his mind engaged as he waited for the Borrim's response.
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Old 03-09-2007, 12:24 AM   #117
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Khandr's body stiffened as he wrenched his hand away from the hilt of his dagger. As the torchlight glimmered down on the two tall figures standing in the corrdidor, it was all too evident, even to the Borrim, that their visitors were none other than the Elvish envoys, who had recently arrived in the village.

"My pardon, good friends! A hundred pardons. Had I known you were coming, I would have arranged for a welcome far different than the one I have given you tonight." Khandr looked nervously from one face to the other, and then stammered on. "Though these lands lie to the south, we have found it cold in these parts, far colder than it was even a few years before. Little warmth has come to us from our hosts or neighbors, and we are simply not used to receiving visitors in the evening. Indeed, once the sun sinks under the plain, we find ourselves barricaded in our homes, afraid to venture too far outside. Things have changed, and it is not for the better. "

"But let me make it up to you for our rude behavior. Surely you will join us around the table for a round of drinks and a plateful of the finest local cheese along with conversation. I would welcome any news from the north...to know how the fight against Morgoth goes in these troubled times. Or perhaps you have even seen my lord King Bor in recent weeks. For in the past day, I have heard rumors a plenty and would welcome your news and expert advice. Our people remain commited to the alliance and will do whatever must be to drive the vermin back into their holes."

He turned to the two of them and gestured that they were welcome to follow him down the corridor and into the great hall where refreshments would be provided.
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Old 03-12-2007, 04:10 AM   #118
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Lachrandir was mollified to a certain degree by the contrite attitude that had come upon the Borrim, though he was surprised to find that Khandr, the man he had come to see, should have been so rash as to lead such an uncouth welcome in person. The Borrim envoy's cryptic words seemed to warn of severe dissension being fomented between these tribes of Men. Not remembering that his own Elven kind were divided far more profoundly, Lachrandir mused on the lack of discipline among these mortals. His words were now polite, though he kept to Sindarin.

"I am afraid I can bring little news of your own people, Master Khandr; for I have not seen the fortress of Himring since the Dagor Bragollach. Your own tidings will be more up to date than mine. I have long dwelt in the south; the ruin of Thargelion and the settling of Caranthir's people with the folk of Amrod and Amras has proved absorbing work. I do, though, carry, indirectly, a certain message from Lord Maedhros. We shall speak on this subject later this eve. In the meantime," and his gaze swept across to include all the sheepish-looking Borrim, "I would be pleased to accept your kind offer to join your table."

Lachrandir smiled, in a fairly genuine fashion, leaving the coldness of his look behind, and turned to his page. "I think, friends, that this companion of mine will not assume such a terrible visage once he has been plied with some of your, ah, cheese and viands..."
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Old 03-13-2007, 07:38 AM   #119
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Brodda thought for a moment, as he listened to Jord speak. So, she at least wanted to listen to his idea, even if it was a superficial interest. They were both opportunists, he surmised, and so surface benefits were usually all that mattered. But before he went into his proposition he thought it would be best to, hopefully, whet her appetite with a little information on the Borrim.

“My dear Jord,” he began, “the Borrim you wished for me to spy on are hiding very little. But what they are hiding may very well be important. And I do not trust their arrival. It is too near to that of the Elves, who I do not trust, and I fear the two may be cohorts. Though, it may be an unwitting or unknown alliance.” Brodda continued to lounge through it all, unperturbed by the thoughts of the Elves and Borrim. But he began to fidget somewhat as he tried to transition into his own proposition. He was finding his position precarious, at best. He had given Jord the information she had wanted, but he had few bargaining chips himself for the upcoming discussion now. Uldor was perhaps his only card to play, and Brodda began to think he should not have come to visit Jord. She probably did not think much of Uldor, if Jord were the opportunist she seemed.

But Brodda quickly composed himself, and decided to go through with it. He may not have much on his side, but if he could present himself well enough that might be all he’d need. “Now Jord, I think it is time we discuss my proposition.” Perhaps he said it too forcefully, he wondered. Brodda felt tormented, that every move he could possibly make could turn against him if Jord took it the wrong way. “I know of your dealings with Uldor,” he continued, “and where he hopes they will lead. But he too must go to war with his father when their army is marched to the aid of the Elves. And the battlefield is a dangerous place, where unforeseen things happen.” He glanced into Jord’s eyes as he spoke, hoping to catch a hint at how she was feeling so far. But he could find nothing. “I, however, will not be going on this campaign if I can help it. And Uldor will certainly need me here to keep his plans from unraveling. Whether battle takes him or not, I could care less. So would it not be better to have someone to clean up the mess this business with the Elves may cause? I can certainly do so…” Sinking deeper into the couch, Brodda felt satisfied with his performance, at least to the degree he felt he had Jord's attention.
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Old 03-17-2007, 04:26 PM   #120
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Tora's Home Life

"I..I know I should have been here long ago and I am sorry that I was unable to come sooner. Yet master Dag had other things on his hands, errands more pressing than the mending of a mere farmer's knife. So I had to wait."

So ran the words of Tora, the only daughter, and decidedly the least favourite child, of Torguar Torgaltling. The father frowned in response, holding his peace for a while, but evidently not exactly mollified. His wife was quieter still, scarcely seeming to breath; she hung about only until Torguar dismissed her back into the homestead's inner room with a baleful look. Then the farmer took the newly-repaired knife from his daughter, and began to reply in a surly voice.

"'Mere farmer', thou say'st, girl? I am your father and I do not like the sound of that word, that mere. What mighty errand did that no-good smith go running after, then? Dropped in on by an elvenking, was he?" Torguar chuckled, his mood a little mellowed by the excellence of his little joke.

"Well, next time I'll send one of the lads. By my father's beard, a man can't trust a girl to look after his knife, can't he, isn't that right, wife? Confound it, where's she got to now?" he barked, forgetting that it was he who had sent her off moments before. Sure enough, the woman came scuttling back, her head bowed.

"Well, now you're here, wife, can't think why, actually, we might as well come down to it. You, Tora, undutiful daughter though you might be," he said in a kinder tone, "I think I've made a good settlement for you, girl. Now, what do you say to the idea of getting married?"
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